Saturday, December 26, 2009

32 the Robin and the Wren

Saturday December 26, 2009:

It is St Stephen’s Day. The frenzy of Christmas is over. We humbuggers breathe a sigh of relief and can go about our business alone and openly again , no longer prey to the sentimental compassion of others who think that to be alone at Christmas means you are a sad loser!

I have spent an autonomously happy day with myself. I am quietly contented. At this quiet time between Yule and the new calendar year, I have time to think and be, to reflect and to work. I write, I dream, I journey and I SING.

With the turning of the year and the return of the light, Robin and Wren are the birds of the season. For me, they are the sacred twins, the holly and the oak and the storm and the sun. As a twin, I feel deeply connected to both.

All hail, wren the king of birds. All hail robin, the prince of the garden, I say as my companion and I create our circle and call in both birds with recordings of their glorious songs. On the alter are holly and oak, a gold and a red candle, and images of wren and robin.

Rolling up our circle and taking it with us, we walk up onto the Parkland Walk and make for a clearing to one side of the path. Here From time to time walkers pass, but they ignore the two middle-aged women sitting by a young tree beyond naked shrubs.

Our Intension today is to connect with the wren and the robin. We know the history of these birds and we want to apologise for how humans have treated them. We want to know how we personally can atone for what our people have done in the past. We want to know what we can do to honour and celebrate their lives and contribution to our diverse and rich ecology.

I play a recording of the robin. A robin in a nearby tree begins to sing back as though to say, “Call that beautiful singing, well hear this!”

I play the recording of the wren and the robin sings louder. I listen to the birds and wonder if I can hear amongst the trilling and whistling, the vibrant pulsing rapid shrillingly loud song of the wren. Beyond them, wood pigeons coo noisily, and far off, a crow caws.

My companion reads the following two poems in honour of our sacred avian twins.

The Wren

The wren, the wren the king of all birds
On St Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Up with the kettles and down with the pans
And give us a penny to bury the wren.
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze
Although he is little his family’s great,
Put yer hand in yer pocket and give us a trate.
Sing holly, sing ivy – sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink it would drown melancholy
And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven yer soul will rest,
But if you draw it of the small
It won’t agree wid de wren boys at all.

Who killed Cock Robin?

I," said the Sparrow,
"With my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin."
"Who saw him die?" "I," said the Fly,
"With my little eye, I saw him die."
"Who caught his blood?" "I," said the Fish,
"With my little dish, I caught his blood."
"Who'll make the shroud?" "I," said the Beetle,
"With my thread and needle, I'll make the shroud."
"Who'll dig his grave?" "I," said the Owl,
"With my pick and shovel, I'll dig his grave."
"Who'll be the parson?" "I," said the Rook,
"With my little book, I'll be the parson."
"Who'll be the clerk?" "I," said the Lark,
"If it's not in the dark, I'll be the clerk."
"Who'll carry the link?" "I," said the Linnet,
"I'll fetch it in a minute, I'll carry the link."
"Who'll be chief mourner?" "I," said the Dove,
"I mourn for my love, I'll be chief mourner."
"Who'll carry the coffin?" "I," said the Kite,
"If it's not through the night, I'll carry the coffin."
"Who'll bear the pall?”We," said the Wren,
"Both the cock and the hen, we'll bear the pall."
"Who'll sing a psalm?" "I," said the Thrush,
"As she sat on a bush, I'll sing a psalm."
"Who'll toll the bell?" "I," said the bull,
"Because I can pull, I'll toll the bell."
All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
When they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin.

My heart feels heavy. I hang my head and lean against the tree.

“Sorry,” I say once more.

I enter a clearing in the wood. The sun is slanting low between the trees. It is the end of the day. I sit down and make a fire to warm myself with. I sit tending it and waiting.

Suddenly the peace is pierced by tremulous staccato, loud and clear. Again and again the song fills the air. Its characteristic trilling flows tells me that wren is here. I look towards the sound and see the small brown bird sitting on a bush ahead and to the left. I bow low and he sings on.

The woods are full of singing this afternoon. In the distance, I hear pigeons, crows and an assortment of other unidentifiable songbirds. Amongst them, hard by me on the right from the depths of another bush, comes the silver whistling song of robin. I squint towards the bush which sits in shadow with the last of the sun’s rays behind it. I screw up my eyes and can just make out a cheerful robin sitting singing his heart out.
It is clear they know each other is there, the two birds duet together. Their songs intertwine, call and response, sometimes in tandem, together they sing in the warmth of the setting sun in the lively woods.

I sit listening, silently apologizing for the treatment of their ancestors. I think about what I can do to make amends and then it comes to me. I should do a ritual of atonement and to honour the wren and the robin each year on St Stephen’s Day.

“It would be my honour to do that,” I say to the singing birds, bowing my head.

I wonder if there is anything else they would like me to do. I wish I could find the words to put in a song. Perhaps I’ll work on that?

I sit and listen. Their singing is so beautiful and I feel so peaceful. Perhaps I should also take time to be in places to stop and to appreciate their singing.

“This too I will be honoured to do,” I say to the birds, bowing again.

The tiny birds sing in their bushes as the sun grows lower and the shadows darken the clearing. My fire burns down to glowing ashes. It’s getting a bit cold. I shiver.

The wren flies off. I hear him singing as he moves. Then he flies back still singing and darts off again. I get up and follow him, for I am sure he means me to.

We move through the darkening wood. He takes me to another clearing. A dead tree lies decaying, covered in fungus, gradually and slowly returning to the earth. Many creatures live upon it, feasting on the nutritious matter that is the decaying wood.

“All things must die to transform and be reborn again as something else. Death is life.” I think. I bow again in acknowledgement of a thought that I am sure was his and which he has given to me. With a crescendo of trilling, the wren flies off.

I hear him singing as I move back through the woods. I hear also the robin singing. I FOLLOW THE SOUND OF THE WRENT TAKING ME TO THE ROBIN.

The robin leaves his bush and I follow him through the woods. I walk into a glade that is still sunny with the last rays of the sun. The robin flies into a low green bush on a green bank. There in the beam of the sun’s last rays, a ragged bright red flower shivers in the evening breeze.

I kneel down and touch its silky softness. I gaze hard at its brightness and I feel my heart lift. It’s the kind of red to make you laugh out loud with joy. I throw back my head and roar with mirth. My voice bounces off the trees, ringing in the woods canopy. The birds sing back their joy in the final chorus of the evening woods. And as I listen I know that there’s always brightness. There’s always life and it is filled with joy. I bow to the little robin and to the raggedy red flower.

I begin to sing to the birds up in the bare winter canopy. They sing back. My companion and I drink tea out of wren and robin mugs (mine is the robin’s one). We eat vegan marzipan chocolate and share our experiences.

I tell her why the image of the robin has played an important part in my life. It symbolizes cheerfulness in the depths of winter and courage in the face of adversity. It was the first picture I drew when I returned to drawing after going blind. It led me to get to art school and changed my life.

The air is cooling. I’m thinking about dinner. We thank the birds again and pack up. Carefully we edge our way down the slippery bank back onto the main path and head for home and the warmth.


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